werribee open range zoo | zoos victoria | melbourne, australia

Werribee Open Range Zoo is truly an open range experience animals appear to have endless space to wander as part of mixed herds.  The climate here can be harsh, and both water and operational funding are precious commodities.  The design was an exercise in doing more with less.  In 2006, “Kubu River Hippos” was proudly opened by the Environment Minister of Victoria as a prime example of State government’s commitment to “green”.  It was the result of a three-year long design and construction endeavour that resulted in the first constructed bio-filtered hippo habitat in any zoo.


AILA Victoria Award for Excellence in Land Management, 2007
ARAZPA (ZAA) Large Scale Exhibit Design Award of Excellence, 2007



This 15,000 square meter exhibit contains a two million liter pool for up to eight Nile hippos.  The experience is designed to represent the cooperative endeavors currently underway in Botswana that place wildlife conservation and eco-tourism in the hands of local villagers.  Its setting is a marsh at the edge of a river inhabited by hippos, and combines immersive landscape settings with contextual interpretation, adventure play, food and beverage, and training and enrichment demonstrations by staff.

By itself, this would could merely be another nice, naturalistic exhibit … however, the whole system has been set up to demonstrate a living system.  It uses a 5,000 square meter reedbed for bio-filtration, an intricate series of reticulation to gravity-feed water to the various pools, and a 15 horse power pump to recirculate the water.  As a result, native bird life has proliferated and regular tours are run to see them.  It has been estimated that the energy costs have been reduced from $500,000 per year for a more traditional system to $150,000 with no increase in labor.

The natural filtration system allows the tea-green water to maintain clarity throughout the year.  The immersive nature of the exhibit allows visitors to feel as though they are wading into the river, in close proximity of the hippos.  Mixed herd species are layered in the background, providing a dramatic, ever-changing portrait of one of Africa's most iconic species and its habitat.

collaboration with:

  • Micheal Ogden of Natural Systems International
  • Work As Play
  • Haskell Architects
  • Urban Initiatives